Lilly's Taltz takes Cosentyx rivalry into psoriatic arthritis with new FDA nod

Eli Lilly’s Taltz officially has a new arena where it can challenge Novartis’ Cosentyx.

On Friday, the FDA granted the immunology drug a green light in psoriatic arthritis, a condition that affects about 1.6 million U.S. patients, Lilly says. That's a major boost to Taltz's current target market in psoriasis alone.

One thing that might help Lilly stand apart from its in-class rival Cosentyx, which snagged its own psoriatic arthritis nod last year? Lilly ran separate trials studying Taltz in two distinct patient populations—those who hadn’t yet received a biologic or advanced therapy, and those who had already used one such treatment, often an anti-TNF med like AbbVie’s Humira. So now, the Indianapolis drugmaker’s sales reps will be able to give doctors information specific to those second-line patients, Pete Salzmann, Lilly VP of immunology, said in an interview.

RELATED: As Taltz growth stalls, Lilly looks ahead to psoriatic arthritis expansion

“Up until now, the prescriber won’t have had a clinical trial to refer to that will give the prescriber confidence” that a med would perform well in the second-line population, he said. And it’s a large population: “Only about half of the patients will get a fully satisfactory response to their first-line agent,” Salzmann said, adding that “many of them are going to progress to being second-line.”

Lilly also feels good about its doctor-rep relationships going into the launch. Psoriatic arthritis straddles two distinct prescriber groups—dermatologists, whom Lilly know well from Taltz’s psoriasis indication, and rheumatologists, who get visits from Lilly reps selling the osteoporosis treatment Forteo.

Lilly’s current rhematology force “will add this to their promotional responsibilities,” and for the dermatology reps, “it’s a wide extension of what they’re already doing,” Salzmann said.

RELATED: Novartis looks past psoriasis for even bigger Cosentyx growth frontier

The Indianapolis drugmaker will need all hands on deck to compete with Cosentyx, a blockbuster with a big head start. Maker Novartis has already said it intends to double down on the spondyloarthritis markets, which boast a broader remaining market opportunity than crowded immunology segments such as rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis.

The way Salzmann sees it, though, second-to-market in psoriatic arthritis is a solid position to hold. Thanks to increasing awareness, “the market opportunity is actually expanding independent of us, and we’re moving into that, which is great,” he said.

And Lilly plans to do its part to keep awareness levels on the rise. There’s a “big opportunity in digital advertising in particular,” Salzmann said. Psoriasis patients with aching joints are looking for info online to see if the pain is related to their condition.

“We intend to make that kind of information available: These two conditions are likely to be related in many people, and they should see their physician for a more complete evaluation,” Salzmann said.